How the SA tourism industry can recover post-pandemic
The first of many steps involves tourism players going full bore to promote South Africa as an attractive destination to local and international travellers.
Although South Africa’s tourism industry is on an encouraging path to recovery from the Covid-induced slump, it is still far from growth levels last seen before the pandemic burrowed its way into the country two years ago.
Market watchers are reporting a rebound in the tourism industry, which is driven by domestic travellers who are frequenting tourism hotspots in South Africa for leisure purposes.
Corporate travel and conference events have also returned, with professional workers, fatigued by virtual meetings, increasingly opting for in-person meetings. But international tourist arrivals in South Africa are still a laggard in the tourism industry and have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels.
And there are still large cracks in the tourism industry when looking at domestic travel patterns. The Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), which represents businesses in the tourism industry, points to a compulsory levy of 1% that is charged to consumers for their specific use of tourism services in South Africa, from booking accommodation to vehicle rentals. The funds collected from the levy are used to promote the tourism industry.
During a Business Maverick webinar on Wednesday about the tourism industry’s recovery from the pandemic, TBCSA CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa said revenue generated from the levy was up by 84% in April 2022 from the same period in 2019. This indicates that domestic travel patterns have recovered in recent months, considering that when more people travel or use tourism services, more revenue from the levy is generated. Tshivhengwa said the recovery in revenue was a good sign, but he warned that it might still decline, considering the seasonality of the tourism industry.
“Winter is coming and travel tends to be slow during this season,” Tshivhengwa told Business Maverick’s Sasha Planting. Making matters worse is that consumers are facing financial pressures — from rising fuel and food prices to interest rate hikes — that erode their disposable income and negatively affect their ability to fund tourism adventures.
Sun International COO Graham Wood, who joined Planting and Tshivhengwa during the webinar, proffered some green shoots about the tourism industry’s recovery despite looming pressures. Wood said if nothing drastic happens, such as further lockdowns or other economic shocks, he expected domestic travel for leisure and business to reach pre-Covid levels by the end of the third quarter of 2022.
The recovery of international tourists arriving in South Africa will take longer, with Wood saying that South Africa had missed the peak season for international tourist arrivals, which ran from November 2021 to March 2022. Wood expects the arrival of tourists from at least Europe and North America to reach pre-Covid levels by March 2023.
Measures to grow the tourism industry
So, does the tourism industry sit back and do nothing, hoping that travel patterns will normalise?
Tshivhengwa and Wood agreed that now is the time for the tourism players to go into full gear in promoting South Africa as an attractive destination to local and international travellers. Promoting the country will take coordinated efforts by provincial government departments and tourism agencies, the pair said.
Tshivhengwa said about boosting domestic tourism patterns by locals: “We have to encourage people to travel domestically and make it worthwhile for them to do so. We have to get the pricing right. The tourism industry is competing with so much, considering the financial pressures on consumers. We have to go out in the marketplace and encourage South Africans to travel.”
Wood supported his views. “We have to inculcate a culture of travel in the country. Our popular tourism centres are the Kruger National Park, Cape Town, the Garden Route and parts of KwaZulu-Natal. What about other rural areas? We need to create geographical spread across the country and get people into other wonderful parts of the country.”
Getting international tourists will be more difficult because the global competition to attract them has intensified. Historically, South Africa pencilled in 2.5 million international tourist arrivals every year, excluding those arriving from the rest of Africa. Wood has described this figure as “desperate”, considering that it has not grown over the past four years.
“We need to aspire to be a country that grows international arrivals by at least 10 million to 12 million every year. This will create jobs,” said Wood.
Accelerating the recovery of the tourism industry will require a new approach. Tshivhengwa and Wood have proposed the following:
- Promoting South Africa as an attractive destination and maintaining the country’s already established market share of international tourist arrivals from the UK, Netherlands, Germany and France.
- The government has to decisively deal with high incidents of crime so that local and international travellers can have good memories of South Africa.
- Fixing the Department of Home Affairs so that visas can be issued without having to go through many layers of red tape. Waive visa requirements for international tourists with passports or visas recognised by other countries that have trading or bilateral agreements with South Africa.
- Fix infrastructure such as roads. This will enable those travelling on the country’s roads to have a pleasant experience and not navigate vehicle-damaging potholes. DM/BM